Long Beach Police Chief deals with tragic death, department morale
Cheyenne Hyer survived the first time her mother, former Long Beach Police Officer Cassie Barker, left her alone in a car, Sheriff Ricky Adam confirmed Wednesday.
The April 6, 2015, incident occurred outside a strip mall on U.S. 49 in Gulfport. Cheyenne was 2 years old at the time and had been left alone in the back of Barker’s personal vehicle. A passer-by noticed the child and reported the incident to Gulfport police. In addition to police, officials with the state Department of Human Services responded to take temporary custody of Cheyenne.
Cheyenne Hyer died last week after she was left again in her mother’s car parked in Hancock County.
“When I learned of this event, I was stunned that a parent would do that and that it was not the first time,” Adam said, adding the investigation into Cheyenne’s death is ongoing. “In this investigation, we’ve gotten some good cooperation, including from some folks at DHS.”
Other records are still in the process of being subpoenaed, Adam said, but the investigation is proceeding and arrests are possible.
Hancock Chief Deputy Don Bass told the Associated Press Wednesday that Barker will be charged with manslaughter as soon as she is released from the hospital.
Ryan Hyer, Cheyenne’s father, said Friday he’s furious to learn about Barker leaving their daughter alone in a car before.
“That was a tell-tell sign that something was wrong and if I would have been notified or somebody else would have been notified or if she lost custody of Cheyenne then, then my daughter would be alive today,” Hyer said Wednesday. “I wouldn’t have lost my child.”
The Sun Herald filed a records request to obtain the initial report on Cheyenne’s death.
Here’s what the paper learned.
Sheriff’s deputies got a call about an unresponsive child at 1:52 p.m. Friday. When they got there, firefighters were attempting CPR on Cheyenne, though she died a short time later at Hancock County Medical Center.
Barker, 27, told authorities she had left her daughter in her car seat in the back of the patrol car when she arrived shortly before 9 a.m. at the home of one of her then shift supervisors, Sgt. Clark Ladner, 36, off Standard-Dedeaux Road on CC Road in Kiln.
Ladner said he and Barker had just finished working a night shift and Barker had stopped by his home to discuss a “work-related incident.”
Ladner said he had taken a sleep aid and had fallen asleep while the two of them were talking and she fell asleep a short time later.
When Barker woke up at least four hours later, she went out to her car, found her daughter unresponsive and ran back inside “frantically” saying something was wrong with Cheyenne.
Ladner said he ran back outside with her. Ladner began CPR on Cheyenne and dialed 911 for help. Barker started CPR on her daughter when Ladner stopped so he turned on the blue lights on Barker’s patrol car and moved the car to the end of his driveway.
Barker told deputies she had left her daughter strapped in the car seat in her patrol car because she was planning to only stay a few minutes and had left the engine running and the air conditioning on.
Deputies looked at Barker’s patrol car and noted all the windows were rolled up and a large blanket sat next to the child’s car seat on the rear passenger seat of the unit.
When deputies looked at the air conditioning setting, they noted the air was actually set “half way between cold and heat,” so the force of the full cold air was not being felt by the child.
Barker became so upset she threatened to harm herself and was hospitalized for treatment. She remained hospitalized at an undisclosed location Wednesday.
Barker and Ladner were both fired from the police department Tuesday night.
Hyer, meanwhile, is continuing to process information as he learns it.
“If this would have been me or you or somebody else, the situation would have been totally different,” he said. “We would have been in jail. Records wouldn’t be expunged. My daughter would still be here.”
Long Beach Police Chief Wayne McDowell said Barker was placed on a one-week suspension without pay because of the previous incident involving Cheyenne and her one-year probationary period was extended 90 days as a result.
Though angry and living on little sleep, Hyer has been working with an attorney to have Cheyenn’s body transported to Jacksonville, Fla., so he can give her a proper burial next to his other daughter, Katelyn, who died at birth in 2001.
Still, Hyer said, he knows he’ll break down when he sees Cheyenne for the first time since her death.
“Everytime I close my eyes, I picture her suffering and then I picture her laying in this coffin,” he said. “I’m going to break down. I still see her smiling and laughing in my head and I would assume that smile and laughter turned to pain and suffering in that instance. It’s an image I don’t want to have, but it’s one I can’t get rid of.”
Hyer said he can’t imagine his child’s death going unpunished.
“As a parent, you are supposed to protect your child and Cheyenne is gone because her mother didn’t protect her, not once but twice,” he said. “May God have mercy on her soul.”